Archive for October, 2006

keeping you up-to-date with the latest

October 18th, 2006

Then you get on the plane. Pilot's always gotta come on the PA system. Give you his whole thing of what he's gonna do. "And here's how I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna take it up to twenny thousand. Then I'm gonna make a left by Chicago. Then I'm gonna go south by ..." We're all back there going... "yeah, fine". "You know, just do whatever you gotta do, I don't know what the hell is going on here. Just end up where it says on the ticket, okay? Can you do that?" Do I bother him telling him what I'm doing, knocking on the cockpit door "I'm having the peanuts now".

The legendary air travel routine by Jerry Seinfeld. Why do I bring it up? Consider this.

I got We got a letter from the post office today. It was addressed to "Inhabitants of this address". What about? Glad you asked.

TGP Post from today on is called TNT Post.

Then they go on to explain how they are changing their company logo from using red and white to using orange and white. Yes, it really makes you sit up and take notice, doesn't it? They also assure us that we will continue receiving mail as heretofore - their service is not changing.

For those of us still a little frazzled by this unexpected development, they bundle a little brochure with a nice new orange letterhead and lots of pictures of mailmen and mail trucks in the sparkling, new orange color. Not only that, a prepaid envelope, as they say "This one time you mail for free". I suppose if one were to hoard these letters, a greater amount of these free envelopes may actually be worth something in postage savings. Then again, I mail about 2 letters a year.

But it's good to be up-to-date. In other news, the sun will set tonight as scheduled.

biological malfunction

October 16th, 2006

So you drive a car to work everyday. You get up, have breakfast, head to the garage and get in. Start the car, put it in gear and drive off. Day two. Same deal. Then comes Day X. Car won's start. It doesn't happen often, but every once in a while, the car will fail. In fact, all mechanical devices fail sometimes. Because that's what they are, constructs whose success rate is 'good enough' for what we need them to do.

Ever noticed how the human body is equally prone to error? Less probable to fail perhaps, in a period of time, but just as likely to fail when the time comes. And I'm not talking about sickness, inborn defects or hereditary disposition. I mean plain everyday things. Like you're in class and the teacher asks you a question and you open your mouth to speak, but... no voice comes out. So you clear your throat (the proverbial 'reboot') and it's back. It's such a weird thing, it probably doesn't happen more than a couple of times a year (so just imagine how reliable your voice is!), but you never see it coming and it does happen. And it's not triggered by any kind of special situation, sometimes it happens in high-stress cases, sometimes in trivial settings. It's almost as if you want to test your voice before you're about to address a person in a crucial moment, just to be sure.

three guys and a road to Breukelen

October 15th, 2006

The other day I was talking to a friend about taking a road trip and we settled on something he had already picked out, a trip to Breukelen. Coincidentally, it is the same direction I went last week, only this time he picked out a different route. There were three of us, and we took off from the Uithof heading north to De Bilt. On the way we passed by the weather station in De Bilt - they had said it would be 15 degrees and sunny, it was neither. After De Bilt we headed westwards toward Groenekan. The road around these parts was very nice, fairly prosperous houses (by Dutch standards - the Dutch don't like to flout prosperity), nice gardens, quiet neighborhoods. Much of the road that came next was outside any town, so we got to see our share of the countryside, which on a chilly Sunday morning wasn't exceedingly interesting. Then we turned back into the city and arrived at city limits on the north side - Overvecht. Heading south we soon found the destination of the pursuit - river Vecht. The tour guide among us gave every assurance that staying with the river we would be right on track, which turned out to be right on all counts.

breukelen.jpg

Just then I realized we had entered the riverboat-red-light-district (that I mentioned last time). As it turns out, there are about 20 or so boats, then it ends abruptly. From there on, there's a little road by the river that makes for a perfect little trip. On either side there are lots of houses, boats, gardens, the architecture takes several turns in changing from one style to the next, it's a very rich area in terms of the view. Lots of houses have boats, you'll see trees leaning over the water, old wind mills, old buildings with lots of ornaments, even an old castle that now houses a university. You'll also see a bunch of people fishing by the river. On the way to Maarssen there's a village called Oud Zuilen, which has a little castle to see. Today entrance was free, but there were so many people in there that basically we couldn't take the tour. Instead, we walked around the gardens and gazed upon the ivy covered walls of the monumental building.

Maarssen is easily the nicest part of this trip, the road by the river continues up to and through the town. Unlike the landscape up to this point, once you enter the town the buildings become much more urban in style. There is nothing sensational about Maarssen, but it's an incredibly cozy place to be. There was quite a lot of traffic on the water this time of day, people just taking a cruise around the river to enjoy themselves. There is something to be said for this river landscape, it is impressive how every detail of people's properties is cultivated carefully. There is no uncut grass, no building where the paint is coming off, no fence corroding, no trash, no mess, everything is clean and organized. And especially by the river, they have taken this to another level, and it continues past Maarssen.

The trip kind of feels like orientation that we did back in junior high. The idea is that you're out in the woods, and you have a certain route to cover. But there are no signs, so you have a map and a compass and you're on your own. If you go the wrong way, by the time you realize it, you would have lost time and you have to make up this distance. On the route, there are posts. At every post there is something you have to do, like take a number from that post to show that you've been there. In school, we did this out in the streets, which is not precisely the way it's supposed to be.. This trip reminded me of orientation, how we went from village to village.

But the target was always Breukelen, and that was coming up next. Breukelen is a small town, very sleepy on a Sunday afternoon. We rode into the center, onto the square, where there's a church and a series of stores and restaurants. For some reason, there was a biker convention right there today, tons of motorbikes parked in the square, with funny people dressed in black leather loitering around the area. We grabbed some lunch in one of the cafe's, right next to the bikers in fact.

Then it was time to head out, and we decided to check out the rectangular shaped lakes that lie pretty near Breukelen eastwards. It's a strange thing, normally lakes are shaped by the landscape of hills around them, but here they are carved out by man to all kinds of shapes, usually rectangles. The lake and accompanying canals east of Breukelen have this odd property, the canals are cut inland while the lake is found beyond them. In these canals there are quite a few boats. Halfway to Tienhoven, we turned off the bikepad (which was sunken next to the road, so we couldn't see much of the lake) onto a beach. The beach was very small, literally 2-3m of sand, then water, then a fence cutting off the water at some 70cm height. I imagine the water gets quite deep after that, so probably for safety they put up the fence. Out on the lake, it wasn't too windy, but quite a lot of boats out there anyway. Also a couple of wind surfers who seemed quite apt. I imagine that in beach weather, this place is pretty packed.

As we got back on the road, we were just a couple of kilometers from Tienhoven, so we decided to check it out. This ride isn't very interesting, for the most part there is a sunken bikepad along a road that blocks the view of the lake, so all you see is huge fields with farm animals wandering around on your right. Tienhoven isn't terribly interesting either, a little satellite town of Maarssen, for those fed up with big city life, it's basically one street of houses on either side, and that's all there is to it. From the road, there are canals everywhere, but no view of the lake anymore. Following the road south, you land in Oud Maarsseveen, which a settlement that's even smaller. From here on, we took a right to head back into Maarsseen. This ride is exactly the same as the first one, except there is no lake to see. About halfway through, there is a settlement on the left (which isn't even marked down on Google Maps), which has a hill, yes, a hill, on display. Incredibly unusual in these lands, the hill seems to be somewhat of a tourist attraction, I know I saw some benches and garbage cans around it.

As we approached Maarssen, we didn't have any clear cut plans on which way to go back, so we let the signs guide us onto the same road by the Vecht that we came from. By now, the sun was just peeking through the clouds and it was getting warmer. The route by the river wasn't quite the same, we weren't seeing it for the first time anymore. But it was nicer with the houses all lit up by the sun. Finally, we got back to the red light area and from there on it was just heading into the center, where we split up to and headed home. All in all, a very scenic and nice trip. The pace was low and casual, so no rush and no sweat. I was quite pleased with the weather, a hot day would have started to bug me after the first hour, this way I was neither cold nor sweating. A little tip for a trip like this: bring gloves.

When I marked out the route on Gmaps Pedometer, it showed me 52km. That's pretty far, I can't remember the last time I spent 5 hours on a bike and traveled that far. When I go by myself, I usually get enough after an hour or two, I suppose it was the company that made it more fun to cover more ground. You can inspect every nook and cranny of our trip on the site, in full zoom in/zoom out detail.

let's have some surgery

October 14th, 2006

If you've ever worked on a car you know the way your hands look afterwards. Or even a bigger job working on a bike will give that effect. It's the kind of dirt that doesn't come off with a wash, you have to scrub the skin and ideally use some special detergent to get it all. This doesn't happen in one go, you have to scrub for at least 30 minutes, maybe more, to get your hands reasonably clean. There will still be dirt under your finger nails that won't come out, but you throw in the towel and consider it a job done well enough. Now this is a scenario that mechanics have to deal with everyday, it's part of the job.

But this is the same kind of scrubbing that surgeons do before surgery. Now, to draw a parallel here, I could understand that kind of meticulous scrubbing after a surgery. You've done the job, you have blood and tissue everywhere, that'll need a good scrubbing. Of course, you'd like your hands reasonably sterile before you put them into a patient. But here's the thing - surgeons wear gloves. Wouldn't it be enough to just wash the gloves? No wait, the gloves are sterile, they come right out of the box, they're used only once and then they go in the trash. So what's the deal?

To make matters worse for the surgeons, mechanics is actually a more precise science than surgery. You can replace a piston with a piston, a screw with a screw. And the whole vehicle comes apart just as it was put together, with no damage caused by opening it up. Surgeons are more like those people who drill for oil, they can't get in without drilling/blasting the outer surface and even then they're not really sure where they are exactly. And when they find the problem, the best they can do is carve out a sizable slice and dispose of it. In the process, they will probably do some minor damage in the area, cause it's a small space and it's hard to move around in there.

1 b 7h3 5uc3

October 13th, 2006

Ah tennis... Middle aged men in elegant, white cotton swinging wooden rackets on a court of red clay. And recently, women in all the more skimpy and flashy colorful dress. And then there's us, regular people with little clue about what we're doing, swinging the racket in all kinds of awkward ways.

The opening act was brutal. Despite playing on Monday and last week, I still often feel like I'm just doing this for the first time. Physically a complete flop. Surprisingly, it picked up after about 40 minutes. Yes, that was 40 minutes of unquestionable, solid suck. Twice fumbling the ball not out of bounds but over the tall wire fence. Oh those were moments to forget. Then, somehow, unprecedentedly, a page was turned. The wrist was getting a brutal beating, but the balls started falling somewhat more favorably. I was doing something right. It was moving ahead, enthusiasm surfaced, energy uncorked. For the next hour there were some ups and downs, but for long stretches of time, I was feeling it. It. The vibe, that says "this is how it's supposed to feel". I'm starting to make it work, starting to master the movement, the stroke, the aim. After three weeks of playing, finally, for the first time, I felt like this is coming together, this is going somewhere. The balance had shifted too, my opponent's bad knee was acting up, I was on the money, but holding back a bit. Otherwise I would have put the pedal to the metal to really find out where I stand. I haven't done that yet. I've played it quiet, trying to drill the basic skills, to get my house in order, lining up my troops at the border. But this is the place I need to be in to go all out. I may not be back here on Monday, form is so elusive. But I will be back. And I will keep coming back, gradually more frequently. I just need to stick with it and remember this feeling.

And yet it started out so sucky, so incredibly sucky. Who knew how it would play out. It's impossible to predict.

On a completely different note, I was validated today in traffic. My long standing conviction that traffic lights basically count for nothing was confirmed. I was coming up to a major intersection, there was a biker ahead of me waiting at the light. Seeing cars coming up to the lights on the left and stopping, I hit the brakes hard and stopped at the light. Then I look at it again, it's green. Well, if it's green... I start crossing, the traffic from the left has just started moving. I get some distressed drivers honking at me. I'm not supposed to be in their way. So why was the light green? What is the point of having traffic lights if they are misleading? To date the most dangerous situation in traffic I've been it. Pay attention to traffic, not traffic lights.

Compulsory liability disclaimer: This rule applies to bikers and pedestrians. Not to drivers. When I'm driving, I respect the lights. That's a whole different ball game.